In a recent report, Forrester Research listed the top 15 technology trends EA should watch and then grouped them into five major themes. The first of these themes was “Social Computing in and around the Enterprise. Within this area Forrester listed collaboration platforms, community platforms and telepresence as the critical technology trends.
The real problem with a discussion on social computing is that it’s automatically assumed that we’re talking about Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube et al and that immediately raises fears around both security and time-wasting. Collaboration is the process of individuals interacting with their peers, within the organisation, with trusted partners, or even wider. And to make collaboration effective you’re looking at shared workspaces and social networking tools.
Benefits of social networking
There are four critical areas in which social networking can bring benefits to the organisation:
- Closer to the citizen – the citizen can be alerted to an area of interest, can be involved in the discussion process, and, as a result, they will feel more involved in the community (whether it’s a local community or a community of interest)
- Internal productivity – employees, at all levels, should benefit from collaboration, and cross-function issues will be handled more expeditiously
- Market awareness – networking with peers is a great way to cut through supplier hyperbole
- Partner liaison – the ability to interact with partners at multiple levels can be a huge benefit.
You can be sure that social computing is going on somewhere within your organisation – even if you believe you’ve banned it. If that’s the case, and it’s watertight, they’ll be doing it from home. So what areas should you consider if you want to adopt a position of enabling it rather than prohibiting it? There are five key considerations.
The first consideration is the selection of publishing tools – which will include blogs, wikis, podcasts, and content feeds. Next come the interpersonal communication and collaboration tools such as instant messaging, texting, e-mail, forums and shared editing. The next issue is searching and navigating; people must be able to find what they’re looking for, and it’s always helpful to include bookmarking, tagging, and rating the content. In penultimate place comes community creation and management; as communities won’t develop by osmosis, they need help by using techniques such as forum moderation, user ratings, content promotion and role management (domain champion, contributors, and users). And finally we come to managing the system which involves single sign-on, authentication and access management.
Social networking will have enormous benefits within the ICT department. Most suppliers have a strong networking programme in place; an example is Cisco. Their goal was to establish a peer-to-peer social networking group that would create a community of product champions to promote and support the business. In its first 12 months the Cisco Learning Network received over 10m hits, has 90,000 registered users, and a visitor to user conversion rate of six per cent. The challenge for Cisco was to “let go”, and allow the community to create its own momentum.
So, if you’re a Cisco site, are your people already using this resource? And, if so, what are they getting out of it? By comparing issues that your staff are confronting with their peers around the world creates a fantastic resource for decision-making, planning, problem solving and risk avoidance.
Within the enterprise
Now if social networking’s such a benefit to your staff, why restrict its use to the ICT group? Each of the functions within the organisation may well find it beneficial to be able to network with each other. For example, collaborating on a knowledge base will create an invaluable resource from which the less gifted within the organisation can benefit.
But that’s not where the real benefit lies – social networking across functional areas, as opposed to within them – will facilitate the process of breaking down the “stove-pipes” and will be the basis of harnessing the collective intelligence within the organisation.
Virtually all public sector organisations have a sophisticated partnering network and creating closed (i.e. restricted to invitees only) social networks between your organisation and your partners will make communications more open and immediate. By having multi-level communications to your partners you are better able to penetrate the organisation and get to the individual(s) with the knowledge or decision-making power you need at any particular time.
With the citizen
And so to the real challenge – opening up the collaboration process to the citizen. That concept may well set the pulses racing. But, if you’re daunted by the thought, think back to that Cisco example above. To make the social networking site as successful as it has been, Cisco had to back away from the position of “we know best” and accept that there will always be situations in which their users actually “know best” – especially when it comes to practicalities.
So, just as Cisco had to “let go” then anyone looking to use social networking has to let go at some point in time. The point is you’re not letting go too much; social networking sites are advisory rather than policy-making.
And your staff will benefit from networking with their peers – either in this country or abroad. There are a number of social networking sites for your L&D (Learning & Development) staff, and many of the discussions are extremely thought-provoking. They vary from “how do I?” to “has anyone?” and on to “what do you think about?” One far-reaching discussion was about whether the L&D function should be part of the HR department. Another was around the greatest inhibiters to L&D within the organisation. You’d be surprised how many felt that it was the ICT department.
And that, indeed, is the key point that comes out of this issue of social networking. Whilst the classroom is not yet dead, its role in skills transfer is diminishing, and in its stead, the L&D function needs to use sophisticated ICT solutions – and is dependent on your support to be able to deploy them. At least, that’s true to an extent, because if they don’t get your support they’ll find what they need “in the cloud” – unless you lock that out too!
The top 15 technology trends EA should watch
Social computing in and around the enterprise
- Collaboration platforms become people-centric
- Customer community platforms integrate with business apps
- Telepresence gains widespread use
- Business intelligence goes real time
- Master data management matures
- Data quality services become real-time
- SaaS will be ubiquitous for packaged apps
- Cloud-based platforms that become standard infrastructure and platform as a service
- Client virtualisation is ubiquitous
- Business rules processing moves to the mainstream
- BPM will be Web 2.0-enabled
- Policy-based SOA becomes predominant
- Security will be data and content-based
- Apps and business processes go mobile
- Mobile networks and devices gain more power
Source: Forrester Research Inc; the synopsis can be downloaded from http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/Excerpt/0,7211,54322,00.html